The big question from Aggies fans since Mike Sherman's hiring has been whether or not the NFL coaching veteran can keep their good 2008 class intact -- landing additional talent would presumably just be gravy.
The former Green Bay Packers head coach and Houston Texans offensive coordinator currently has kept the class together at this point and made a big recruiting statement this week luring Jeff Fuller (McKinney, Texas), ESPN's No. 25-rated wide receiver prospect, from his commitment with Oklahoma. Fuller currently sits right outside the ESPN 150 and is an explosive 6-foot-4 receiver prospect with big-play ability.
Fuller recently visited A&M after Sherman was hired, and it appears he liked what he saw from the new head coach and the direction of the program. A bit reserved, Sherman's NFL connections, reputation as a successful offensive coach and past ties to A&M as a former offensive line coach look to be his best attributes as a recruiter.
Under Armour All-American defensive lineman Roderick Davis (Houston/ Dwight D. Eisenhower) gave us his interpretation of the new coach.
"I talked to Coach (Sherman) when he first got hired while still finishing with the Texans. He didn't talk a lot about me and my commitment with A&M; he basically just introduced himself, asked if I had any concerns about the program and then we actually talked mostly about his game plan as the Texans offensive coordinator that week because it was supposed to rain on game day," said Davis.
"It was a more laid back conversation; I think he was trying to feel me out as a person, which was good."
As mentioned before, there has been little movement as of late with the current class, but that doesn't mean Sherman's job will get any easier until February. A handful of commits are reopening and taking visits, including Davis.
"I am actually headed to Florida this weekend," said Davis.
"I was firm on my commitment until the coaching change. The coaches that recruited me and my defensive line coach for the next four years probably won't be there now in my opinion. I think Coach Sherman will bring in his own guys, which I understand, but it does make things different now."
USC losing some skill
It's a bit unusual to see an elite skill prospect de-commit from Pete Carroll and the Southern Cal Trojans, and it's even more atypical for an "under the radar" prospect to break a pledge from one of the premier programs in college football. This week, we saw the latter happen with non-ESPN 150 prospect Chris Polk (Redlands Calif./East Valley) and potentially saw the stage set up for another Trojan pledge prior to February.
During summer camp, the vast depth of talented skill players led to the transfer of running back Emanuel Moody, one of USC's leading rushers the previous season, and it appears to be an issue among 2008 Trojan commits. They have to decide whether to potentially sit for a few years at USC or be a four-year centerpiece at a less prominent school.
While he remains committed, running back Curtis McNeal (Los Angeles/Venice) told ESPN affiliate WeAreSC.com this week, "I feel like I will have a better opportunity to play as a freshman at Oregon. USC is loaded at my position, and I've been thinking about that for a while now."
Polk had been committed to the Trojans since March and is widely considered by the Scouts Inc. staff as a good football player but not an elite receiver or top-tier prospect. Could Polk have felt the same way, particularly with the commitment of Brice Butler (Norcross, Ga.), ESPN's No. 3-rated receiver prospect and the No. 17 overall player in the country? ESPN 150 athletes D.J. Shoemate (Mira Loma, Calif./Servite) and Joe Adams (Little Rock, Ark./Central Christian) may not have helped matters.
McNeal still appears to be favoring USC, and though the Trojans are accustomed to gaining elite skill players like Butler, the pickings are getting slim with less than two month until signing day.
McCray and Miami part ways
One of the more popular recruiting topics all year has been whether Miami could retain all of its 2008 commitments, many of whom like to shop around, and finish with the No. 1 class come signing day. This week saw the first big name de-commit in Lerentee McCray (Dunnellon, Fla.), ESPN's No. 6-rated outside linebacker prospect. It appears McCray desired to visit other colleges while Shannon and Co. wanted a firmer commitment. With potentially six other linebackers already pledged to the Canes, most in a strikingly similar smaller, rangy mold like McCray, perhaps he was expendable.
Interesting that Patrick Johnson, the nation's No. 1-rated cornerback prospect, seems to be on a rock star world tour but still remains part of Miami's class. Tall, physical corners that can play press-man and also turn and run with faster receivers are rare and highly coveted by coaches on any level.
Hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end Marcus Robinson also seems to be visiting his share of campuses, but his blend of size, speed and fast-twitched athleticism as a pass-rusher are also rare and invaluable in defending college football's prevalent spread offenses.
Where some recruits allowed to explore other programs and take visits while others were not? Were some schools considered "out of bounds" in terms of visiting for certain players? It's hard to speculate when you do not know the true conversations and shared "non-binding" verbal agreements between Randy Shannon and each one of his current commits.
Time will tell as Johnson and other prominent prospects in the Canes' 2008 class will be enrolling early in January.
2008's biggest surprises
Pittsburgh, Colorado and Washington went a combined 15-22 this past fall, not overly inspiring when you set off on the recruiting trail as a coaching staff. However, the poor on-field records appear to be doing very little in regards to discouraging commitments. Combined, the three schools boast seven ESPN 150 prospects, with Colorado and Pittsburgh each claiming an impressive three.
The Panthers had a big week landing ESPN's No. 1-rated tight end prospect Jonathan Baldwin (Aliquippa, Pa.) and on-the-cusp ESPN 150 quarterback Tino Sunseri (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic), a former Louisville commit.
Washington snagged Polk from USC, which is a good sign alone, but its pickup of the state's top prospect Kavario Middleton (Lakewood, Wash./Lakes), perhaps the best two-way player in the country, a few weeks ago is an auspicious sign in the rebuilding process.
We have heard from several Colorado recruits about the great job Dan Hawkins is doing selling a championship caliber program and a place to come and compete for playing time as freshman; those sentiments were shared again this week by Under Armour All-American Max Tuioti-Mariner (Corona, Calif.) after his commitment.
"Max thinks they are definitely an up and coming team and he feels he has a chance to play right away there," said Corona head coach John Brandom about his 300-pound guard.
Wannstedt, Willingham and Hawkins give off similar impressions as recruiters; high-energy, a championship vision and a strong selling point to play a vital part in the rebuilding process.
New additions to Under Amour game
Although we received news from Tuioti-Mariner this week regarding his commitment to Colorado, unfortunately we were also informed that a prior knee injury would keep the ESPN 150 member from participating in the much anticipated Under Armour All-America Game, which is less than a month away. Last week, we received similar news from talented quarterback Riley Dodge (Southlake, Texas/Carroll), who separated his shoulder in the Texas state playoffs.
The injuries, though disheartening, have given a few players the opportunity to head to Disney for an exciting experience competing in front of a national audience. Wide receiver Blake Cantu (Southlake, Texas/Carroll), Dodge's main weapon at Carroll, will slide into his roster spot, and the future Oregon Duck should provide the coaching staff on Team Red a well-rounded possession receiver with a great set of hands.
Penn State commit Matt Stankiewitch (Schuylkill Haven, Pa./Blue Mountain) will fill in for Tuioto-Mariner on Team Silver and is a productive line prospect with the versatility to play both guard and center.
We are also excited to add Martin Bayless (Sugarland, Texas/Hightower), a tall, athletic receiver prospect with great college upside to the Red team; he is choosing between Ohio State, Florida and California.
ESPN's No. 17-rated quarterback prospect D.C. Jefferson's (Winter Haven, Fla.) actions this week are making proponents for an early signing period smile. Jefferson committed to Rutgers in August, de-committed in October, subsequently gave a verbal to LSU and this past week de-committed from the Tigers and gave a pledge back to the Scarlet Knights.
Several ESPN 150 and Under Armour All-Americans will be squaring off on Saturday in the 2007 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
"I am having a blast. It's been a fun week but very competitive. There are some great players here," said No. 2-rated tight end Dwayne Allen (Fayettville, N.C./Terry Sanford).
Look for Scouts Inc. recap of the Shrine Bowl on Monday.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level. Tucker has served as a recruiting coordinator for two nationally ranked Division II colleges. Most recently, he was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Merrimack College, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Division II playoffs.